Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Author: xensen (Page 18 of 19)

Celebrating Sisters

sisters of perpetual indulgence

click photo for larger view

Laughing Squid has posted a notice of the 28th Anniversary celebration of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The free event, called Night of the Living Easter, will be held in Dolores Park from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on Sunday, April 8.

“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence celebrate our 28th year of raising money, eyebrows (and a smidge of Hell), all for you, our community,” the announcement says. “As always, the event is free to all, and donations are gladly accepted. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to pick up some really cool Sisters’ schwag including t-shirts, buttons and indulgences! Remember: Salvation comes to those who bring trash bags and clean up after themselves. Night Of The Living Easter is a Perpetual Indulgence production.”

Two of the sisters kindly gave me permission to take the photo above during an antiwar rally in January 2003.

San Jose Flea Market

cherimoyasI’ve never been to the San Jose Flea Market, but after seeing Jennifer Yin’s photos I just might have to make the trip. Founded in 1960, the flea market boasts eight miles of “colorful alleys and treasure-laden corridors,” according to its official website.

The market gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp (links below), but Jennifer Yin writes “I grew up in San Jose, and am proud of it. Here’s one reason why: its flea market….” (For the full report visit her flickr set.)

The market is said to receive four million visitors a year, so it might not be the best place to search for solitude. But “the friendly, experienced Flea Market staff has been assisting and successfully dealing with large crowds for more than 40 years,” so if you’re looking for produce, clothing, furniture, automobiles, power tools, home and audio electronics … well hell, just about anything, it sounds like this might be a good place to look.

The Flea Market Inc.
1590 Berryessa Rd.
San Jose, CA. 95133
(408) 453-1110
1(800) Big-Flea (244-3532)


cherimoyas photo by Jennifer Yin (detail)



Burrito Eater

burrito eater
photo from is an incredibly thorough guide to the city’s taquerias and burrito restaurants. Through today it has reviewed 454 burritos since New Year’s Day 2003.

Top-rated? Taqueria La Castro, 4001 18th St. Runner-up? Papalote, 3409 24th St.:

Papalote’s burritos are rendered with such mechanical consistency, some have wondered if there’s a mustachioed robot assembling them in an unseen corner of their tiny kitchen. The victor of our 2004 postseason tournament and close runner-up in our 2006 Slab Scrum, Papalote has become a quietly infallible kingpin of the Mission’s vaunted taqueria scene — slightly off the beaten path, humbly sized, family operated, and pretty much a sure thing every time. Pancho Villa may have the security guard and the gymnasium-size dining hall, La Taqueria may have the tacky neon sign proclaiming its burritos the greatest things since sliced sesos, and Cancun may have the poor white hipster cred. In our book, Papalote steamhammers them all. Specify a foil wrap, if that’s your game of cards, and check the rotating art exhibits on display. Breakfast available. Credit cards accepted.

UPDATE: Gridskipper has posted a good page on SF burritos, keyed to a map of the city.

Emporium Dome, Westfield Centre (Bloomingdale’s), San Francisco

the historic emporium dome

click any photo for a larger view (via flickr)

Recently I visited the Westfield Centre in downtown San Francisco, mainly to get a look at the historic dome that was saved from the old Emporium department store that occupied the same location. I had a personal reason for checking it out, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The Emporium, founded in 1896 in San Francisco, was once the major competitor to Macy’s (and I. Magnin) in the region. In 1927 the Emporium merged with an Oakland-based store, Capwell’s, to form Emporium – Capwell. In 1995 the store was bought out by Federated Department Stores, the parent company of both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s (among others).

On the store’s 100th birthday in 1996, the old Emporium flagship across from the Powell Street cable car turnaround on Market Street — which the company had claimed was the largest department store west of Chicago — was closed. It remained sadly vacant until 2006. Then, in September 2006, Federated opened a Bloomingdale’s on the location as the co-anchor (with the previously opened Nordstom’s) of an urban shopping complex pretentiously called the Westfield Centre.

westfield centre

The Westfield Centre is glitzy, soulless urban schlock. As you can see from the photo at left, it houses some movie theaters, which I haven’t visited yet. The Bloomingdale’s is huge, second in size only to theNew York store, and I suppose it serves as a comfort store for transplanted New Yorkers who crave the consumerist outlets of their past.

It’s probably a fine store, but I was mostly interested in the building’s main historic feature, its dome, which is all that was retained from the old Emporium, other than the exterior facade.

Disappointingly, only glimpses of the dome can be caught from lower floors.

On the upper levels, however, the dome and rotunda can be enjoyed from comfortable chairs, which I suppose would be a pleasant enough place to relax on days when the weather drives you inside.

Part of the reason I wanted to check out the dome and see what Federated had done with the old building is that the Emporium was my first employer when I first moved to San Francisco. Back then the Emporium used to host a carnival on its roof at Christmastime, complete with a full-sized ferris wheel and other rides, food venders, and more (one year they hoisted a working cable car up the twelve stories to the roof). My job was a temporary one — I was their Santa Claus Manager: sort of a stage manager for the Christmas schtick. About half of my Santa Clauses were members of the comedy group Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater (not “theatre” as Westfield would no doubt spell it). Some of the better-known roles of members of the group were Randee of the Redwoods (once a regular on MTV), Ian Schoales (who comments on PBS), and Dr. Science (he knows more than you do). Ian Schoales (Merle Kessler) maintains a blog.


Below: Santa Claus material??? Photo of Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater by Manoj Patel.


link: memories of the Emporium

Model Bakery, St. Helena

model bakery, st helenaThe Model Bakery, a fixture of St. Helena’s Main Street, continues to serve up pastries, cookies, and breads made fresh daily with organic flours and natural sourdough starters. Sandwiches, hearty soups, and wood-fired pizzas are also available. The unpretentious interior is called “vintage” by Zagat’s — appropriate for a bakery that’s been operating at the same location for 70 years. There are flowers on every table. You can also get a picnic lunch to go and take it across the street and up a block or so to a pleasant town park with a gazebo; that’s somethin my family has done a lot over the years.

Click image for larger view.

1357 MAIN ST., ST. HELENA; U(707) 963-8192. Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Flying Fish Grill, Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is a foggy coastal community of about 17,000 people located about 30 miles south of San Francisco at the intersection of highways 1 and 92. (Since I live in the East Bay I usually get there from highway 92 across the San Mateo Bridge, but be aware that 92 is often very slow.)

The main shopping area is on Main Street, which triangulates the two highways toward the south. Just west of where Main Street meets 92 is a rustic little fish place called the Flying Fish Grill.

(Click images for larger views.)

flying fish grill

The restaurant is an adjunct to the fish market that is located next door.

fish market

The Flying Fish has a good range of fish dishes. The fish tacos — though maybe not quite as great as those at El Tio in Puerto Morelos — are the best I know in the Bay Area. A Taco Grande, which is pretty big, costs less than $4. The crabby cheese bread and clam chowder are popular, and the fish sandwiches shouldn’t be overlooked.

The kitchen staff is an agreeable crew (you’ll meet them if you visit the rest room, which is reached by way of the kitchen), and the chef clearly knows what he’s doing.

kitchen staff

Service is a little unpolished, and orders sometimes end up at the wrong table. But it doesn’t matter. Our waiter on our last visit was a likeable fellow, and everyone has a good time, and a good lunch.


There is outside seating if the weather is nice.


Troubles Continue for SF Chronicle

A few years ago when San Francisco’s afternoon paper, the Examiner, merged with the morning paper, the Chronicle, readers were promised a paper that would be greater than ever, with a larger staff and more investigative reporting and original news coverage than ever before. That never happened, and the new paper was a disappointment from the beginning. (I cancelled my subscription early in 2003 in objection to the paper’s editorial perspective.)

The new Chronicle never seemed to formulate and implement a viable and consistent vision. Now, in an “emergency meeting,” it is said to have warned of more in its seemingly never-ending series of layoffs.

Is there hope for daily print media in San Francisco?


Pelican Redux

santa cruz pelicanBy popular request, here’s another (clickable) view of our grave feathered friend.

Pelican at Santa Cruz Boardwalk

pelicanOkay, I’ll admit it, I’ve been a little lazy about posting here the past few days. I’ll have more to say about the Santa Cruz boardwalk later on. For now I’ll just let this image speak for itself (I think it might be saying “Hey, buddy, where’s the fish?”). Click the photo for a larger view.

Summer 2007 Art Exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area

I’ve moved this post to a static html page because it wasn’t formatting properly here.  The new location for the summary of 2007 art exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area is here.

Golden Gate Park Windmill

windmill in golden gate park, san franciscoI don’t think I have an image of the Murphy Windmill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park right now. The image at left is of another windmill in the park, the Dutch Windmill (thanks to Sarah in the comments below for pointing this out; click on the image for a larger view). Named after Samuel G. Murphy, who donated $20,000 to the city in 1905, the windmill once pumped 70,000 gallons of water an hour into an irrigation system that was instrumental in creating the park from its sand dune base. Over the years the windmill — which is extremely large; the photo below, for comparison (also clickable), is of a windmill in Bruges, Belgium — had fallen into considerable neglect. Fortunately, a civic-minded group known as the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills has rescued the decaying landmark.

You can read about the restoration in a March 2005 San Francisco Chronicle article by Kathleen Sullivan. Here is an excerpt:

Mark de Jong, a 43-year-old Dutch contractor whose speciality in Holland was historic restoration, lives only a couple blocks away from the windmill with his American wife and three children.
“The first time I saw the windmill, I thought: Wow, that needs work,” recalled de Jong, who emigrated in 1994.
De Jong, who comes from the land of 1,000 windmills, was impressed by the size of the building.
“In Holland, windmills are about half that size,” de Jong said….

golden gate park windmill

For another picture of the Bruges windmill, see my blog at

Port View Park, Oakland

carol at 7th street pier, oaklandThe main feature of Port View Park in Oakland is what locals call the Seventh Street Pier. It’s a popular fishing pier that offers good views of the nearby Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. The Port of Oakland Container Terminal is also nearby — not a bucolic feature, but not without interest since the Port of Oakland is the main Bay Area shipping destination. (San Francisco’s piers are no longer major destinations, except for cruise ships. Because the city is on the tip of a peninsula it is inconvenient for ground shipping, whereas Oakland is well served by train and truck routes.)

In the late 19th century there was an enormous pier near this one called the Long Wharf (it opened in 1871). It reached nearly to Goat Island (Yerba Buena Island). Trains ran out the pier to connect up with sailing ships, a process that was fazed out around WWI.

In September, 2004, the park was in effect expanded with the addition of 38 adjacent acres called Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. I haven’t seen this new addition but according to Waterfront Action it features “spectacular views of the bay and shoreline, shorebirds, nearby maritime operations, San Francisco and Oakland skylines, and marine traffic at the estuary mouth;a dramatic observation tower; picnic and barbeque facilities; parking, restrooms, and water fountains; historical exhibits; an amphitheater; free viewing scopes; fishing pier and platforms; the only beach in Oakland; and nearly three miles of pedestrian and bike paths, some of which are part of the Bay Trail.”

map to middle harbor park

Hangtown Fry

Sometimes in San Francisco one encounters something called a “hangtown fry.” What is it? It’s a sort of omelet composed of oysters, eggs, and bacon. Some say the hangtown fry, which was served in 19th-century gold mining camps (the oysters were transported in barrels of sea water), is the first true California cuisine. It was an expensive meal, a signal that one had struck a rich vein.

The dish gets its name from Placerville, which was known colloquially as Hangtown because it was the site of a famous hanging of outlaws. Recently a Placerville group known as the “Hangtown Fryers” has tried to promote the dish as the official dish of the state of California.

QM2 Arrives in San Francisco

qm2While most of the U.S. was watching the Superbowl, a sizable contingent of San Franciscans congregated at the Golden Gate to welcome the Queen Mary II to the city, a stop on her 81-day world cruise. San Francisco sits aside a giant bay, and it has seen a lot of vessels come and go — several Gold Rush vessels, abandoned by their avaricious crews, make up a portion of the landfill under the Financial District — but the QM2 is the biggest ever to visit the city. In fact, it barely squeezed under the Golden Gate Bridge (with 12 feet to spare). The vessel is four times the height of Telegraph Hill and some 280 feet longer than the Transamerica Pyramid is tall.

Piece and Bits was among the throng of spectators, and she has provided Frisco Vista with some photos. The photo above shows the armada of sailboats that accompanied the ocean liner in its journey into the bay. My favorite picture, however, is the one below. It captures the festive spirit of the San Franciscans who made the visit a cheerful event (and an excuse to enjoy a nice February day by the bay). Thanks, Sista Annie.


Amy Tan’s San Francisco

amy tanThe Washington Post, as part of a “People We Like and the Places They Love” series, recently ran an interview with Amy Tan on the subject of San Francisco.

The image at left (cropped, somewhat desaturated, and adjusted for highlights and shadows) is from Tan’s official site.

Third Street Rail

3rd street rail mapSF MUNI (Municipal Railway) opened the “T-Third,” its new Third Street light rail line (on weekends only for now, with full service beginning in April) on January 13. (The new service is about a year behind schedule and $120 million over budget.)

In the early 20th century this was a busy streetcar route, so the new line restores a historic aspect of San Francisco. The route runs down the eastern side of the city, past the ballpark and along Third Street through the Bayshore Corridor. The northern end of this route is one of the up-and-coming areas of the city today, with a good mix of funky old buildings and new gentrification that has not yet killed the old flavor.

The 5.6-mile line also runs through some of the city’s poorest (and most isolated) neighborhoods, and it is hoped that improving public transit connections may bring a little help to these areas. As part of the project, Third Street was repaved, and new streetlights were added. Nineteen stations — high platforms similar to those along the Embarcadero along the N-Judah line — were also constructed.

Tamarindo Antojeria

tamarindo, oakland

I had a chance to eat at Tamarindo Antojeria the other day. It’s located 468 8th Street in downtown Oakland. (The nicely restored brick-walled restaurant is in the city’s Old Town district.) Their website is, and the phone is 510.444.1944.

Although it was a Wednesday the restaurant was very crowded. We arrived early because we were heading for a 7:30 event, so we got a table right away (the one on the left in the picture above), but people who arrived just after us had to wait.

Tamarindo was voted “Best Mexican Restaurant 2006” by the East Bay Express. But it’s not much like most Mexican restaurants. You won’t find massive burritos here. Instead you get alta cocina, a sort of nouvelle cuisine take on creative Mexican cooking. Small, exquisite dishes, reasonably priced. We had the green salad, which was fresh and tasy, and the mole de tamarindo, which was excellent. Our other dish, a chile relleno was fine, if a tad odd with sour cream and cheese and bits of tortillas that were prepared just to the point of beginning to get crisp.

The food is accompanied by a good wine list, although they ding you a bit on the prices, which are a little out of scale with the food. We had beer, and it accompanied the food perfectly.

Record Cold

It’s freezing — literally. Over here in the East Bay we’re looking at a week of lows around or under the freezing mark. I’ve been watering my plants and covering them with plastic at night when I can. But I don’t have enough plastic (or time) for all of them. My fuschias and brugmansias are looking very distressed. I can replace the fuschias since they grow fairly fast (and I think they might come back), but I’d hate to lose the big beautiful brugmansias.

The Bay Area gets frosts occasionally, bt it’s unusually to have such a long duration of frost. We are going to lose a lot of our semi-tropical plants. This is a sad development.

link: Tom’s Garden

Top SF luxury hotels

This is not a class of hotel I generally stay in. If you want to know how the top San Francisco luxury hotels match up, California Travel Experiences is ranking them for value, service, location, reputation, and “frequent stays.” The seven hotels under consideration are Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Saint Regis, Palace Hotel,Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, and W San Francisco. They’ll announce a winner later on.

Visitor Comments

It occurred to me that while there is a place for comments for each of these posts, I didn’t have a place for open-ended comments about this site, its html pages, or its general topics. I could set up a guestbook or a forum, but for now I would rather use the blog format. So this post will serve as an open forum. Please leave your general comments or questions here.

Outdoors in the Bay Area

So far the winter of 2006-207 has been a cool one in the Bay Area. But we got out for a short hike yesterday on Sobrante Ridge, and it was quite pleasant. The trail wasn’t muddy, and the manzanita was in bloom. I’m starting to post some pages on outdoor activities in the Bay Area.

Conrad H. Roth’s SF Photo Essays

Conrad Roth has posted, in two parts, his impressions of the city. Although he calls his posts “photo essays,” there is also plenty of text.

Update: Roth has posted a follow-up on Berkeley

Don’t follow leaders, and watch your parking meters

If you’re driving in San Francisco be aware that the city issues some two million parking tickets a year, contributing something like $85 million to the municipal coffers.

When I was editor-in-chief of Mercury House in its Sansome Street location I had on my wall a prayer to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of parking spaces. (Others have been nominated for this honor, including Saint Jude, Saint Antoine, Saint Therese, and, of course, Saint Rita, but since Mother Cabrini lived out her days in New York City I think she is probably best qualified).

Traffic is the curse of the Bay Area, since the peninsula on which the city sits is small in size and most of the region’s traffic must be funneled over a handful of lanes on a few bridges. (Why will the new Bay Bridge have no more lanes than the old one?)

But parking is nearly as bad a problem. As a result, many people have given up attempting compliance and instead simply rack up hundred of dollars in parking tickets, which they put off paying as long as possible. But now the city is fighting back with cameras, mounted atop unmarked cars, that scan license plates — at a rate of about 250 plates per hour — to find vehicles that have accrued five or more tickets. Once the offending vehicles are located they are quickly fitted with boots that render them undrivable.


link: I-80 in East Bay is nation’s 2nd-worst commute
link: chaos and the everyday traffic jam

Page 18 of 19

Some rights reserved 2017 Tom’s Garden. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via